Sharks banking on other Mr Lawrence
It was a fellow with the surname of Lawrence who was widely accredited with allowing Wallaby flanker David Pocock to get away with murder in last year’s World Cup quarterfinal against the Springboks.
South Africans haven’t forgotten Bryce Lawrence’s role in their team’s untimely demise, and neither have the Sharks players who are preparing to negate the Pocock threat in Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby showdown with the Western Force at Mr Price Kings Park. However, coach John Plumtree is hopeful that the other Mr Lawrence will make it a different game to the one that we saw in Wellington last October and make life a lot more difficult for Pocock.
Mark Lawrence, the optician from Mpumalanga who was schooled at Beachwood in Durban North in the 1980s, is a very different kettle of fish when it comes to refereeing the breakdown than Bryce Lawrence is -- or at least how Bryce Lawrence was on the fateful day he will probably always be remembered, and loathed, for.
“We have Mark Lawrence refereeing this game and he referees pretty much to the letter of the law. He’s very tough at the breakdown, probably one of the toughest referees in the competition when it comes to that,” said Plumtree at a press conference in Durban on Tuesday.
“I don’t mind how the referees blow the breakdown, as long they’re consistent. What I’ve seen is different referees blowing differently. The Kiwi refs blow differently to the Aussie refs, and I was hoping last week that Steve Walsh would be tough at the breakdown because the Highlanders commit numbers to that area. That is fine, just as long as it is legal (which is why you need a ref that will police that).”
Plumtree is hoping that Lawrence, the other Mr Lawrence, that is, will be alert to Pocock and the Force’s quest to slow down the Sharks’ ball. This week’s battle with the fetchers is the first of two in successive weeks for the Sharks, who next week run into their old nemesis, Heinrich Brussow, in Bloemfontein.
“If we get forward momentum across the gainline then it does negate the fetchers a bit and make them less of a factor,” said Plumtree.
“The Highlanders were a difficult side to play against. Hopefully this week we will get to play a bit. We are playing against a couple of really good fetchers. Pocock is not the only one, Richard Brown is another one who can do it, and do it well, so we need to be really accurate at the breakdown or else we won’t get any continuity.
“If we get a lot of slow ball we’ll be forced to kick more, as we did last week.”
Plumtree said the emphasis at training this week had been on tightening up skills as the Sharks look to build confidence by backing up positive performances for one of the few times this season.
“That’s the big question, isn’t it? Backing up is what it is about, and we haven’t really done that this season. When we have won we have tended to spoil it the following week by losing. We can’t afford to let that happen now as we have to win every game to keep the heat on the front-runners.
“The players were annoyed in the Chiefs game when they created opportunities but dropped the ball. We’ve been hard on ourselves at training and we’ve been focused on tidying up our skills. The key thing is winning, because winning breeds confidence, and it doesn’t matter how those wins are achieved. If we have extra belief in our abilities and train with smiles on our faces because we have the confidence given us by having log points in the bag, that helps unbelievably.
“We’re always going to set a plan in place. Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails -- that’s sport. But there’s no coincidence that when our defence functions very well, we win. That’s what we’ve seen in this competition this year. The top teams have the best defences. Look at the Stormers and the Chiefs.”